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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Science Note: Supermolecular Suitcases

Air Date: Week of September 30, 2011

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Researchers at New York University and the University of Milan created a hollow ‘suitcase’ structure that can capture unstable molecules or transport chemical catalysts. Its deometric shape comes all the way from the ancient Greek physicist Archimedes. Living on Earth’s Daniel Gross reports.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: Coming up, a long haul driver turns to truckin' with a 2 wheeler. But first, here's this week's Note on Emerging Science from Daniel Gross.

[SOUND OF SOCCER GAME]

GROSS: The shape of a soccer ball might be good for something off the field – capturing and carrying elusive molecules.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

GROSS: A team of chemists based at New York University recently scored a victory in the laboratory by creating a hollow three-dimensional ‘supermolecule.’ A supermolecule can work like a ‘chemical suitcase’ and hold smaller molecules inside.

The scientists first create hexagonal tiles from everyday elements like carbon and nitrogen. Molecular bonds help the tiles interlock like puzzle pieces. Then, the researchers add a chemical solution and the tiles spontaneously fold into a 3-D shape – like a piece of origami.

Groups of ‘supermolecules’ stick together like honeycomb. That means scientists can trap and move large quantities of particles - even unstable molecules that otherwise can’t be nabbed. Researchers can also dissolve these ‘chemical suitcases’ in a different solution. That means ‘supermolecules’ can deliver helpful catalysts to spur chemical reactions.

Over two thousand years ago, the Greek physicist Archimedes envisioned just this structure and 12 others with geometric faces like triangles, hexagons, and octagons. But this is the only form scientists have managed to build on the scale of atoms.

So chemistry’s newest trick comes from some of the oldest physics in history. That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Daniel Gross.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

 

Links

Read the abstract or purchase the paper from Science Magazine

See 3-D animations of the “molecular suitcase”

 

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